Roads and Transportation Department workers from Jefferson County have taken on the task of moving a “small mountain” in their efforts to battle an underground fire that has annoyed Forestdale neighbors with smoke the past several weeks.
Jefferson County deputy county manager Cal Markert said the steeply sloped terrain of the property off Timber Ridge Drive and Forestdale Bend Road makes battling the smoldering illegal dump site particularly tough.
“We can’t work at it from the top because it won’t hold heavy equipment, and the slope is so steep on the backside you can’t climb up on it with heavy equipment,” Markert said. “We’re basically going to start at the bottom and just very slowly excavate out with our equipment and try to get it separated that way.”
Under the leadership of county attorney Theo Lawson, the county was able to get a plea agreement with the property owner last Friday. A hearing was held virtually, with Jefferson County District Court Judge Katrina Ross presiding and Lawson, defendant Anthony Clark, his attorney Juandalyn Givan and District Attorney Danny Carr in attendance.
The defendant pleaded guilty to three counts in violation of Section 45-37-170 of the law, which deals with the accumulation of litter, debris and unregistered motor vehicles. Under the law, county Roads and Transportation Department crews are able to go on the property and work to put out the fire with the defendant being responsible for the costs.
Without these guilty pleas, it is unlawful for the county to go on private property unless there is a declared state of emergency. County crews began the task last Saturday. It has been no small endeavor.
County crews access the site from a lower elevation via a road they cut from Forestdale Bend Road. They have access from a higher elevation via a road they cut off Boden Lane.
“(The site) covers, I believe, seven pieces of property, and there are many various spots underground that we think are smoldering,” Markert said. “We don’t know how deep that’s coming from and where it’s coming from so you’ve basically got to move a small mountain to get this taken care of.”
Crews have sought input from several contractors about different materials that could cap the fire and materials that can be sprayed on it. “Still, the thing we feel best now is to dig it out, separate it, put it out and then dispose of it,” Markert said.
“When you have combustible material under dirt, it will combust on its own if it’s getting oxygen to the catch on fire,” the deputy county manager continued. “I don’t think it’s prevalent to have the fire, but illegal dumps are a problem. With tires and trash, it’s a major problem for us in the county.”
While storm water pollution is a concern, stopping the seeping smoke is the initial task.
“I’ve been out there and it is horrendous,” Markert said. “We’re trying our best to get that stopped as soon as we can.”